Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Water is Being Flushed Down the Toilet

I must have been at the peak of boredom (if boredom can even have peaks… was I at the valley of boredom?) a few months ago, because I actually read my water bill. Normally, I look at the dollar amount, gauge its reasonableness with a highly complex and intricate formula that mostly involves the question, “Does that sound right?”, and then I pay it.

For some reason, I actually read the charts and graphs on the August/September bill and was amazed to find out that we used an average of 772 gallons per day.


That seems excessive, to say the least. How is that even possible? That’s probably like nine or ten Olympic-size swimming pools’ worth, or, to put it in more understandable suburban terms, about seven billion 16-ounce Starbucks travel mugs.

Back in August and September, we Californians had no idea we were in for the driest winter we’ve had since the dawn of time, so I was watering my lawns dutifully, to keep up the ridiculous social convention of green grass being more attractive than brown dirt.

I stopped watering my lawn around the end of September, unwittingly ending up on the cutting edge of the self-righteous, drought-conscious Northern California homeowner scene. Now in February, after we have received roughly 0.0 inches of rain in December and January, I can point to my dying, brown, lawn-like substance with pride and say I cared about the environment and our precious natural resources long before you people with green lawns did. The truth is, I really stopped watering because I don’t like mowing. I just sort of stumbled into this whole self-righteous thing.

Curious about our water usage without all the annoying lawn care, I checked the December/January bill and I was shocked. We used an average of 292 gallons per day, which seemed a little high still, but what I was shocked to see was that the dollar amount of the new bill was only 36% less than the old one even though we cut our water usage by 62%.

How does that work, Placer County Water Agency? If I did my math correctly, based on your billing logic, if we stopped using water altogether you would still want $47 from us.

We have three young boys, all of whom play sports and wear clothes to school, and my wife owns nearly a third of all the clothes in North America, so our washing machine has basically been running continuously for nine years now. That makes the 300 gallons per day number a little more believable, but it still seemed high to me. Until last night.

I had just put the kids to bed and my wife was out of the house - wearing the third or fourth outfit of the day - so I was firmly planted on the couch in front of the TV, no doubt watching some manly show about wrestling alligators or blowing things up. The boys’ bathroom sits upstairs above the living room, and when the toilet flushes, it sounds like a medium-sized waterfall in the wall behind the TV.

When I heard what was probably the fourth flush in as many minutes, I started to pay attention. When I heard the estimated ninth flush, I began counting. Knowing which one of our children it was – I will not divulge the culprit’s identity here, to spare him from any future horrific embarrassment should his senior prom date happen upon this column - I decided not to intervene, even though nine flushes is obviously overkill for any bodily function a kid can produce. I was treating it more as an experiment than anything, mostly out of curiosity at just how many times one boy felt it necessary to flush, but also because I really didn’t want to drag my lazy butt off the couch.

At flush number twenty-four I got off the couch. He was up to twenty-six when I made it up the stairs. I’m not making this up. (Neither the flush count, nor the fact that I’m so old it took me two flushes to get up the stairs.)

I politely inquired as to what he was doing.

“Yes, I can see that. Why are you flushing so much?”
“I don’t want to clog the toilet.”

Hmm… While I appreciated his motives, I didn’t really know which subject to tackle first – The fact that the wipe/flush/wipe/flush/wipe/flush method, while effective in preventing toilet clogs, is not the most economical or conservative approach; or the fact that if you have to wipe twenty-seven  times, you might want to improve your overall technique.

Like so much of my really good parenting advice, I decided to put it off until later.

“OK, well, we obviously need to have a talk about pooping, but let’s do it tomorrow, OK?”
“OK dad. Goodnight”
“Goodnight, son.”
“Yes, son?”
“I like to have a clean butt.”
“We all do, buddy. Goodnight”

I walked back downstairs shaking my head. At least now I know how we manage to use 300 gallons of water a day. My son just accounted for half of it.

As summer approaches in the great parched state of California, we’re definitely going to need to work on more drought-friendly wiping methods around here. Not only will that help everyone water-wise, but it should also help our toilet paper budget tremendously.

Running out of water is one thing, but if my boys keep going the way they are now with the toilet paper, we might be forced to re-purpose that water bill, if you know what I mean.


See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I May Have Accidentally Grown Up

I fear that I may have actually grown up. I guess it was a matter of time, but I was avoiding it successfully, or so I thought.

I never felt like an adult until I had kids. I guess I should say, adulthood didn’t occur to me until the kids arrived. Nine years have passed since that day they inexplicably let my wife and I leave the hospital by ourselves with a baby, and for most of that time I have only been masquerading as an adult. That has changed.

Apparently, sometime recently, I actually became an adult. I didn’t know it had happened until our best friends had us over for dinner a few nights ago. It was a lovely evening. The kids played upstairs together, sustaining only minor injuries, we watched some of the Sochi Winter Olympics and marveled at how simultaneously strenuous and boring cross-country ski racing is, and we ate a delicious dinner. Everything seemed perfectly normal until the end of the evening when someone remarked at how our dinner conversations were different than they used to be. We collaborated on a short recap of all the topics we could remember, and the mood fell somber.

Here’s a list of our evening conversation topics:
Back pain
Spine care
Life insurance
Prostates/prostate exams
Health insurance
Health care providers
The Affordable Care Act
The bleak irony of the term “Affordable” in the name “Affordable Care Act”
School districts
Cookie recipes
Seasonal allergies
Mattress quality (unfortunately, with respect to back pain, not anything fun)
Heart disease
High-fructose corn syrup

The room was quiet for a minute as we soaked in the fact that none of us had thought the conversation topics were odd during the conversations. Only after the fact did we realize - Holy crap. We’re old. This is old people stuff. Since when are these things our stimulating conversation topics?

Looking back, it’s been sneaking up on me. When we got home from dinner and put the kids to bed, I put on my slippers and sat quietly in my easy chair under a quilt as I reflected. I realized I should have seen it earlier. There were warning signs.

I have begun to turn the car radio off when looking for an address or using the ATM, so that I’m able to concentrate. I used to give my parents endless grief for doing that when I was a kid. They are laughing right now.

I sit down to put on pants. Classic old guy move.

My face is going numb. I regularly have food stuck to my face while eating and have no idea. You see old guys all the time eating dinner with food stuck to their faces. My chin is completely dead.

I grunt when I bend over and I moan when I stand back up straight.

The other day I noticed my “Forever” postage stamps have the year printed on them. That made me think the U.S. Post Office wasn’t really planning to hold up their end of the “forever” bargain, and that made me mad. Only old men get mad about stamps.

And don’t even try to get me started on my joints. No, seriously. It’s really hard for me to get started on my joints.

There it is. I’m old now. I’m an adult, I guess. Bummer.

It won’t be long until I’m the old guy in the gym locker room, wandering around butt-naked for a half hour, just casually having conversations with other butt-naked old men, none of us ever once thinking to get a towel and cover up a little.

I may as well get my lawn chair now, to put out on the front porch and yell at the kids to stay off my grass. Damn kids drive too fast down the street, too.

Come to think of it, that was another one of the dinner topics.

Damn kids.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Salt-Free Valentine's Day

Son Number Three had surgery on Valentine’s Day last year. It was only ear tubes and adenoid removal, but it was enough to get me off the hook. I initially thought the doctor was making up the word “adenoid” just to help my cause, but he assured me later that they are a real thing. Anyway, my wife was so focused on making sure her little baby boy was doing OK that I was able to slide on all things Valentine’s Day related. Thanks, little man!

Our pediatrician sounded a little annoyed yesterday when I called to inquire about available surgery openings for this coming Friday. He started out caring and concerned when I mentioned surgery, but the conversation kind of fell apart after I told him I didn’t really have anything specific in mind, since all three boys are perfectly healthy at the moment. I explained that last year worked out so well for me, Valentine’s Day-wise, I was hoping he could come up with some kind of elective surgery for one of the boys. I told him it obviously didn’t have to be anything major.

He had the nerve to hang up on me, and I think we might need to find a new pediatrician. Geez, man, take it easy. A simple “No” would have been fine.

Since it seems that children’s medical visits won’t be helping me avoid Valentine’s Day this year, I am going to turn my attention to a global crisis instead.

Here’s my story: I was going to get my wife chocolates this year, but with the looming sea salt crisis, I just can’t in good conscience contribute to the problem any longer.

Sure, salted caramels are yummy, and the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, but what am I, a monster? Why don’t I just get her a coat made out of baby seal fur with a sea turtle shell purse?

Have you ever seen a salted caramel advertised with regular salt? Of course not. Everything is made with “sea salt” now. This must end. For goodness sake, my discount tortilla chips now advertise “made with sea salt” on the side of the 30-pound bag. Do you have any idea how much sea salt is required to properly salt 30 pounds of tortilla chips? I don’t either, but it must be a lot.

Our love of sea salt has gotten completely out of hand. I’m sure the world’s oceans are being desalinized at alarming rates, all in the name of nachos and chocolate, and it’s only a matter of time before the effects will be seen on our sea life. While it is true that humans cannot live without nachos and chocolate, we can source the salt more responsibly.

I’m sure there is some two-bit environmental activist group somewhere already hard at work trying to educate the public on this, but they are likely having trouble getting their message out because they spent their advertising budget on pot and Cheetos. It’s time for this disturbing issue to receive the kind of worldwide exposure that only Just a Smidge can bring.

World ocean de-salting must end! I don’t care if Valentine’s Day has to suffer. So be it. Our precious marine ecosystems deserve better than this!

Global oceanic catastrophes aside, let’s also not forget the human side of this. No one ever considers all the regular salt miners who are out of work. It’s not as if our demand for salt increased. We simply became enamored with sea salt. In the rush for our oceans’ salty booty, no one stopped to think about all the families that would be affected inland. Besides the obvious layoffs and associated lack of income, hundreds of thousands of people are being deprived of even saying, “Well, I guess it’s back to the salt mines.” That is tragic.

Let’s all work together this year to keep Valentine’s Day simple. No more expensive chocolates! Think of the fish. Think of the families. Think of the children. Think of the children of the fish. Tragic.

Roses? Sure, you could buy her some overpriced flowers if you don’t mind not breathing after we’ve cut down all the world’s vegetation in the name of love.

A $10 Hallmark card? Don’t even get me started on the trees!

A simple kiss on the cheek and an “I love you” should suffice for any couple truly in love. Don’t selfishly destroy the planet just to make me look bad!

And remember, if my wife asks, my objection to Valentine’s Day is an ecological one, not economic.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bigger or Better

It’s a common tale. Your doorbell rings and you answer to find Pocahontas and a Boy Scout on your front porch carrying a toaster oven and a knife sharpener. You immediately invite them in, and a few minutes later they leave with your water skis. We’ve all been there, right?


Well, I’ve been there, and the memory of that night was spurred by my favorite Super Bowl commercial this year.  I really enjoyed the Bud Light “Up for Whatever” series of ads with the unwitting guy named Ian who goes on a very lavish and totally pre-planned blind date, where he is the only one who isn’t an actor in on the gag. He has no idea what to expect, and ends up in a stretch limo with a DJ inside, rides an elevator with Don Cheadle and a llama, plays ping pong against Arnold Schwarzenegger who looks like Bjorn Borg on HGH, and winds up the evening onstage with a band called OneRepublic. All in all, a pretty weird night for Ian.

Those commercials brought back a lot of memories, actually. Sure, many of them are hazy, but still…
Here’s a checklist of things in those commercials that Anheuser-Busch has brought me over the years:
(I say Anheuser-Busch because many of these events were brought to me by Keystone Light, long before I could afford fancy beer like Bud Light)

Blind dates – check
Ending up in someone else’s limo - check
Drinking in elevators – check
Meeting Don Cheadle – no
Bringing livestock indoors as a prank – check
Playing ping pong – check
Meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger – no
Dressing like Bjorn Borg – check
Ending up singing on stage – check

The funny thing is, beer was not involved in the main event I was reminded of by the commercial, namely the Pocahontas/water skis situation. The randomness and the unexpected aspects of Ian’s Bud Light-sponsored evening were what jogged my memory, not the drinking aspect.

Pocahontas and the Boy Scout were college kids that showed up on my doorstep on Halloween night this year, after our kids had long since slipped into a sugar coma and been carted off to bed. On any other night of the year, if costumed twenty-year-olds show up at your door you would reach for the shotgun, but on Halloween you gladly open the door to offer them candy. Instead of leading with the standard “Trick or Treat,” they stood there timidly - the Boy Scout hugging a full-sized toaster oven and Pocahontas holding an electric knife sharpener - and began to explain that they were from the Christian college just up the road.

Bells and whistles went off in my head and I stopped the Boy Scout mid-sentence and said, “You’re playing ‘Bigger or Better,’ aren’t you?”

“Yes!” they both exclaimed in unison, obviously both shocked and relieved that I knew about the game.

I invited them inside and explained to them in great detail that this was their lucky night, because not only did I know all about the game, but I happen to be the reigning world champion of said game, as far as I know.

“Bigger or Better” is a scavenger hunt game played primarily on Halloween, since All Hallows Eve is really the only socially acceptable time to knock on strangers’ doors at night (Yeah, I’m looking at you, guy who wants to sell me magazine subscriptions and chocolate bars), and played primarily by youth groups looking for wholesome fun. The rules are simple: Each team starts with a single penny. At the first door you ask to trade that penny for something bigger or better. Maybe you get a dime. Maybe you get an old box of used paper clips. Whatever. You take your new-found loot to the next house to trade up, and so on and so forth. You are due back at the starting point at a specific time, and the teams are judged on which has returned with the biggest and/or best item.

I have been riding high for almost twenty-five years after my glorious “Bigger or Better” win on that fateful Halloween night in high school. The sleepy little town of Davis, California has yet to recover from the sheer magnitude of the victory. So when Pocahontas and the Boy Scout showed up on my doorstep a few months ago, I knew what I had to do. I needed to pay back the karma that helped this skinny little kid turn the world on its ear so many years before.

I knew I could never give them an item great enough to rival my victory, and frankly, I wasn’t about to try. That victory is, and always will be, mine, and Pocahontas and the Boy Scout don’t deserve it. I was going to try to help them win their game, however. It was the least I could do to somehow cosmically repay the good fortune of my youth.

They left my house and headed back to the judging panel with a pair of old six-foot-long, purple and black water skis. I’m pretty sure they won.

That wasn’t all they left with, though. They also walked away from my home with the story of the greatest “Bigger or Better” victory of all time. The story of the night that I turned a single penny into a regulation-sized ping pong table AND a Peugeot motorcycle in less than two hours. (I am not making that up.)

I know I will never top that win, so I will never try. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give it a go. I highly recommend playing the game at your next Halloween party. There’s no reason why the youth groups of America should have all the fun.

And if you happen to be having an adult Halloween party, all the better! I say, don’t be afraid to take a cue from the intrepid Ian in the Bud Light ads. “Bigger or Better” would probably be even bigger and better if alcohol was involved. Who knows? You might just end up trading Don Cheadle a pair of water skis for a llama.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!